Tourism plan shifts dollars awayfrom events

Published on Thu, Mar 29, 2001 by Meg Olson

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Tourism plan shifts dollars away
from events

By Meg Olson

Blaine city council has approved a new blueprint for developing tourism in the area, changing its focus from events to infrastructure.

At a March 26 workshop staff presented the a new tourism marketing and development plan the city paid consultants Chandler, Brooks and Donahoe $25,000 to develop with the Blaine Tourism Advisory Committee (BTAC). Council members voted unanimously to adopt the plan.

“This plan gives you the seeds of vision for our community as well as a couple of things we can move forward on now,” said city manager Gary Tomsic, who enthusiastically endorsed the plan. “It varies from being futuristic with its long-term vision to very practical suggestions – like take down a sign.”

The biggest change recommended by the plan would be to change the way BTAC directs spending of funds collected through the city’s lodging tax. “Rather than taking a limited amount of dollars and using it for events, you need to invest in the kind of infrastructure you need for tourism – focus on specific projects rather than granting your funds out to different agencies,” Tomsic said.

This change in direction was reflected in BTAC’s budget for 2001, which slashed funding for events like Skywater and the Fourth of July fireworks. The Blaine Chamber of Commerce was awarded $15,000 for events this year, rather than the $25,000 they had requested. Last year the organization got $40,000 in lodging tax dollars to run special events.

“This is a business plan for tourism development, saying we can make this happen if we spend our money this way,” Tomsic said. “It’s a big change, and a painful one.”

“We’re scrambling but we’ll deal with what we have to,” said chamber president Pam Christianson. “I’ve got to find funding for fireworks. We already have people calling the visitor’s center because they’re planning their vacation around our Fourth of July – they were here last year. We don’t want to keep taking tourism development dollars. We want to be self-sufficient but it can’t happen overnight.”

The plan originally presented by consultants cut all funding for chamber events, limiting event funding to $10,500 for the U.S./Canada Peace Anniversary association’s sculpture exhibition and arts festival in Peace Arch Park. Consultants argued that lodging tax dollars, intended to draw overnight visitors to the community, should not be spent on events that only drew a local crowd. “Those tax dollars were meant to generate tourism,” said BTAC member and Resort Semiahmoo representative Rob Fix. “Some of these events were drawing people in a 15-mile radius and not really generating tourism.”

Consultants recommended up to $25,000 be allocated to an arts commission to plan multi-day events around an art/sculpture theme. The current budget includes $2,500 for that purpose.

Rather than completely eliminate current event funding, BTAC chose to phase it out. “What Chandler, Brooks and Donahoe have given us is a painting, a paradigm. It’s up to us to put it into practicality. Reality is where there are compromises,” said council member and BTAC president Ken Ely. He said the committee had opted to slowly phase out funding for events that didn’t draw overnight visitors, moving the dollars to fund infrastructure projects, signage changes and marketing Blaine.

Infrastructure recommendations in the plan include a boardwalk and viewing deck on the west side of Peace Portal Drive, and the BTAC budget includes $17,500 for surveying, engineering, design and bid preparation. A $20,000 grant from the state will make up the balance of the project’s design costs. Interpretive signs at Blaine Marine Park and a boardwalk connecting the pier to the park are other short-term infrastructure improvement suggestions.

Half a million dollars is proposed to purchase the Subway building on Peace Portal Drive, relocate the visitor’s information center there and add public restroom facilities. The expanded visitor’s service, which the plan proposes be run by the chamber in the future, would help draw travelers off the freeway. “Once we get them to stop, we figure we can keep them here,” Tomsic said. He added plans to move the visitor’s center would be on hold until designs for a new border facility were finalized. “It’s fairly long-term,” he said.

Another effort to draw visitors recommended by the plan is gateway and highway signage improvements, for which the BTAC budget allocates $10,000 this year. “ We need to do a better job identifying our community. I think we have too many signs but not too many nice signs,” Tomsic said. “We’d like to see a beautiful sign that just grabs you,” he said.

Blaine needs more varied reasons for visitors to come, including another hotel, boat charters, and more retail business, and the plan recommends hiring a professional recruitment firm to bring those businesses in. BTAC has allocated $10,000 in 2001 for the effort. The plan also recommends the city lobby to bring a major attraction, such as the planned Northwest Discovery Center, to Blaine.

Blaine’s new approach to tourism also devotes more resources to marketing the community. Development of a website, a new logo and a photo library were budgeted for a total of $11,500, and $2,000 was earmarked for professional marketing assistance. The budgeted amount is less than half what consultants had recommended, the remainder going to chamber events. “We felt it wasn’t good sense to spend a lot on marketing until we had more to market,” said community development director Terry Galvin. As funding for chamber events is phased out, more dollars will go to marketing.

Christianson said the chamber agreed with the fundamentals of the plan but questioned the timing. “While we agree with most of what they’re proposing, there are some things we think could be implemented later,” she said. “Spending money to go out and recruit another hotel when the ones here aren’t full seems a bit presumptuous. Let’s build on what we have first.”

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